The Origins of Warfare in the Levant

Sling stones suggest prevalence of war in prehistoric times

Origins of warfare

These sling stones could be a clue to the origins of warfare. Emil Aladjem, IAA, M

Excavations at the archaeological sites of Ein Zippori and Ein Esur in northern Israel have revealed what may be the earliest evidence of warfare in the southern Levant. During excavations at the sites, archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) uncovered over 400 sling stones dating from 5800 to 4500 BCE. While sling stones can be used for multiple purposes, the sudden appearance of large quantities of semi-standardized sling stones led the researchers to suggest they were used in warfare.

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Sling Stones and the Origins of War

Throughout history, slings have been a common weapon of war, as immortalized in the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). They also could be the earliest evidence of warfare. The 424 sling stones discovered at the early Chalcolithic sites of Ein Zippori and Ein Esur all bear clear signs of having been worked by hand to shape them into a semi-standardized size and shape. Around 2 inches long and a little over an inch at their thickest, the stones were an ideal shape to maximize accuracy, and the biconical shape matches that used later in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

Origins of warfare

A researcher with the IAA holding a few of the Chalcolithic sling stones. Courtesy Emil Aladjem, IAA.

While sling stones were also used for hunting and herding, the researchers believe that was likely not the case at Ein Zippori and Ein Esur. One reason for this is the lack of wild animal bones in the faunal assemblages found at these sites. Indeed, according to the researchers, “These stones are, in fact, the earliest evidence of warfare in the southern Levant. The similarity of the sling stones points to large-scale industrial production. The effort put into the aerodynamic form and the smoothing of the stones’ surface indicate that they were intended to be exact and deadly weapons.” Although similar sling stones have been discovered in older contexts in other regions, this is the earliest such example within the southern Levant and appears to coincide with the gradual shift from a predominantly hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a primarily agricultural one.

Ein Esur

An ancient building at Ein Esur in which Sling stones were found. Courtesy Assaf Peretz, IAA.

The origins of warfare have been hotly debated by historians and philosophers for centuries, with many suggesting that warfare dates to the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies, as groups began to vie for control of strategic resources. Both Ein Zippori and Ein Esur were very large sites during this period, with one measuring around 70 acres in size and the other over 120 acres. According to the researchers, this may have been one of the driving forces behind their armament. Indeed, two other large sites in the area, Ein el-Jarba and Kabri, have also yielded large finds of sling stones from this period. These sites could have operated as local centers of power, battling with each other for various reasons.

Read more in the Bible History Daily:

Sling Bullet with Greek Inscription Discovered in Israel

Iron Age Weapons—From Cold Metal to Warm-Blooded Animals

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Warfare in the Biblical World

The David and Goliath Saga

War, Peace and Justice in Early Israel

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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